The State Party did not provide a progress report by the deadline of 1 February 2004 as the Public Inquiry on the road improvement at Stonehenge finished on 11 May 2004. Subsequently, the World Heritage Centre received a progress report from the State Party on 7 May 2004 and its revised version on 28 May 2004:
Stonehenge: As has been previously reported to the World Heritage Committee there are proposed infrastructure projects relating to the roads and visitor facilities at the World Heritage property. The A303 Stonehenge Improvement scheme aims to upgrade the A303 trunk road as well as to remove the A344 road. In July 2003 the Highway Agency with the support from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and English Heritage, submitted a proposal which involves 2.1 km of bored tunnel and 3.6 km of four-lane dual carriageway, which mainly replaces existing dual carriageway, that runs through the World Heritage property. The bored tunnel scheme for A303 will (1) put trunk road traffic underground and therefore out of sight of the Stonehenge monument, (2) be less damaging to the underground archaeological deposit compared to the earlier proposal of "cut and cover tunnel scheme", and (3) be in line with the objectives of the Stonehenge World Heritage site Management Plan (English Heritage 2000). This is the result of continuous effort undertaken by the State Party which examined over 50 alternative routes with a significant amount of public consultations over twenty years since the inscription of the property in 1986. On 13 June 2003 a representative of the World Heritage Centre attended the Public Exhibition on the A303 Stonehenge Improvement at Amesbury.
The proposed scheme was subject to a Public Inquiry from 17 February to 11 May 2004. Details of the Public Inquiry, including daily transcripts, can be seen at www.planning-inspectorate.gov.uk/stonehenge and www.highways.gov.uk.
According to the State Party, the Public Inquiry focused on the obligation of the State Party under the Convention, the justification for the inscription of the site on the World Heritage List and whether the proposed scheme was in accordance with the Management Plan. The proposal is controversial and a wide range of views and alternative proposals were placed before the Inspector. Concerns raised by ICOMOS-United Kingdom, the National Trust, the Council of British Archaeology include possible damage that road cutting would have on underground archaeological deposit and on access across large parts of the site as well as increase in traffic and noise pollution. Some of the opponents to the current scheme prefer options with an extended tunnel up to 4.5 km or alternative road routes. ICOMOS United Kingdom in particular stated in their closing statement to the Public Inquiry that they do not support the proposed scheme, any of the alternative routes including a 4.5 km tunnel, nor the alternative suggestion by the National Trust of an addition of 200 m at the eastern end of the tunnel and 600 m at the western end.
The total cost of the proposed project is over US$450 million, the estimated cost of the road scheme is over US$350 million and the visitor centre with access scheme is some US$100 million. The Government of the United Kingdom acknowledges that a longer tunnel would provide additional cultural benefits but there are other environmental issues and additional costs of some US$ 300 million.
ICOMOS as well as other organisations and individuals have written to the World Heritage Centre to express their concern on the impact of the A303 scheme on the World Heritage site. The decision on whether to proceed with the scheme is expected by early 2005.
The planning application for the visitor centre and revised access arrangements are being finalised by the English Heritage that manages the monument on behalf of the Government of the United Kingdom, in conjunction with the National Trust which has a large land holding within the World Heritage property.
The schemes for the reversion to chalk grassland, sponsored by the Department for Food and Rural Affairs are proceeding and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has reached agreement with local farmers concerning a reserved area for Stone Curlews which are extremely rare in the United Kingdom. This is one of the objectives of the Management Plan for the World Heritage site.
Avebury Circle: There is a research proposal made by a former Curator of Avebury Museum for Avebury stone circle. While most of the work would carry forward agreed research priorities, the research also includes re-erection of a megalith which fell in the 18th century and is currently lying on the ground. In the first half of the 20th century, the stone circle was altered by the archaeological work of Alexander Keiller who re-erected many stones, mainly in the western half of the Circle. The current proposal relates to a megalith in the south-east sector which was the least altered by previous archaeological work. The proposal will be subject to the statutory processes which will address issues including policy on the restoration of archaeological monuments as well as its potential impact on the World Heritage site.
Silbury Hill: Following the temporary conservation work in 2001 to stabilize a collapsed exploratory shaft in the hill, the English Heritage has recently carried out investigative work. Two further cores were drilled from the top of the hill, one through the central shaft and the second to test the results of the seismic survey. These confirmed that overall the hill is stable, but that there are localised areas of weakness and voiding caused by previous investigations. The English Heritage will organise a seminar in 2005 to discuss how to secure the long-term preservation of the Silbury Hill.